Replica Rhino Horns

Find out about the fabrication of replica horns for the Black Rhinoceros on display in the Natural History Museum


Conservator Nieves Fernandez attaching replica resin horns to a Black Rhino Rhino specimen on display with horns removed The National Museum of Ireland has removed all rhinoceros horn from exhibition. This is in response to thefts from collections and museums across Europe.

Rhino horn is a target for theft as it commands high prices on the black market. Criminal gangs sell on stolen horn to satisfy the demand for rhino horn as a status symbol or as an ingredient in traditional medicine.

Rhinoceros horns are made of keratin which is the same material forming fingernails and hair in all mammals. The medicinal benefits and properties of keratinous materials have all been denied by modern scientific research. Rhinoceros horn cannot reduce fever, relieve headaches, or cure any other bodily ailment. It does however, actively function as an illicit symbol of wealth.

Ireland along with most countries is a signatory to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), an international attempt to prevent smuggling of products from endangered animals. It is illegal in Ireland to attempt to sell rhinoceros horn or to move it across international boundaries without appropriate permits. It is legal for the Museum to put rhino horn on display; however this increased risk of theft to specimens on display has been tackled by the removal of trophy heads from exhibition and the removal of horns from the large pieces of taxidermy remaining on open display.

Museum quality replica horns have been mounted onto our rhinoceros specimens. These newly-made items, which copy and model the essential features of the original horns, visually reconstruct the rhino specimen allowing it to be viewed and enjoyed as nature and taxidermist intended.

The fabrication of the replica horns was undertaken by Nieves Fernandez of the conservation department. 

Step 1. Protection

Vulnerable areas of the rhino horn are sealed and protected with a barrier layer of Japanese tissue paper and adhesive.

Step 2. Preparation of base

The horn is set onto a smooth bed of specialist modelling clay.

Step 3. Coating the horn in silicone rubber

The upper side of the horn is coated in thickened silicone rubber. Once the rubber has cured, a layer of plaster is applied to form one side of the mother mould.

Step 4. Fabricating the other side

The first side of plaster is allowed to dry. The horn is lifted from the modelling clay bed and silicone rubber is applied to the other side of the turned horn.

Step 5. The mother mould

A three piece mould is created with two detachable sides and a top piece moulding the base of the horn. The silicone rubber is held rigid with a mother mould of reinforced plaster. 

Step 6. Casting the horn Reinforcing interior with fiberglass fabric

The horn is removed from the mould. The silicone rubber interior is painted with dry powder pigment and tinted epoxy resin. Fibreglass fabric is laid into the epoxy resin to strengthen the sides of the replica horn.

Step 7. The big reveal

Once the epoxy resin has cured and hardened, the mould is lifted off to reveal the perfectly detailed rhino horn replica. 

Step 8. Attaching the horns

The replica horns were attached in situ, working in the upper gallery of the museum. The horns were attached using forms made from inert polyester fabric, tinted silicone rubber, powder pigments and wax. The materials used are all chemically and physically stable, and pose no threat to the specimen.